Bryant Tom's story

Bryant’s grandmother was the main influence in his life. He had been living with her since 1983 when he was about seven.

‘She stood by me when I went to boys’ homes and jail … but she passed away. So did my mum. They both passed away while I was in jail.’

When Bryant was 15 he was sentenced to a government-run juvenile detention centre in Brisbane. He felt that his childhood growing up with lots of boy cousins, and the fighting that went on between them, prepared him for the centre.

‘I wasn’t too worried.’

What he did find in the centre though, was that some of the officers were friendly, some were very strict and hard, and others preyed on the vulnerable boys. An incident in the communal showers meant that Bryant was targeted by a number of ‘these ones’.

‘I caught him [the officer] looking in the mirror at the other boys in the shower … I’d seen what he was doing and I called out to the boys … and from there on in he singled me out.’

The showers were where Bryant was first sexually abused in the centre.

‘He come along and he was standing there looking at me … he started feeling me up in the shower. And it just got worse and worse … My room was always in the back and he used to come in late at night.’

To keep him silent, the officer belittled Bryant.

‘He said, “No one would believe you” … I just learnt not to say anything. Yeah, he used to do shit to me.’

Bryant had been sexually abused prior to entering the centre. An 18-year-old male neighbour had abused him from when he was 12. The abuse continued for three years. Bryant had not been able to tell anyone about it.

‘He made me think everything we were doing was alright … And because I already went through that, I was already messed up.’

One of the intimidation techniques used at the centre was strip searching. Strip searches could happen anywhere at any time of the day or night.

‘If they tell you to strip search and you don’t do it, then you get hurt. And you’re only wearing underwear and overalls that button all the way up, and boots and your socks.’

Another officer began to harass Bryant while he was working.

‘I used to work in the laundry and most of the time there is only you and the officer there … Started off he was talking dirty, just telling stories. And he said “Strip search, you’re carrying something”.

‘It started off like that, then he started touching me … He said I liked it because my thing got hard.’

Bryant’s trauma and shame from being abused was compounded by his confusion about whether or not he was an active participant. He has also wondered why he couldn’t stop the officers from molesting him. Bryant began acting out violently and he developed a drug addiction. He has also developed debilitating anxiety.

‘I didn’t click on why I had OCD … I developed OCD because I felt dirty … Dirt freaks me out, I’m on medication for it. I get flashbacks, as part of the disorder you get flashbacks – violence, thoughts of sex. It just doesn’t stop.’

He has been in therapy with a range of counsellors and psychiatrists, and has spoken about the sexual abuse by the neighbour. He has never addressed the abuse he suffered while in juvenile detention but he spoke to another inmate about it, and decided to speak to the Royal Commission.

‘I seen counsellors about the other [abuse at 12] but until this [Royal Commission] come up I never – 'cause I was 15 and I thought, “Nah, I should have stood up for myself”, 'cause I was pretty big too.’

Bryant wants to address his trauma but the psychological facilities available to him in jail aren’t trauma-informed services. He has also resisted being more heavily medicated for his OCD and anxiety.

‘They wanted to drug me but I said no. I don’t want to be drugged because then I get outside and I’m not drugged, and I just lose the plot.’

He wants to get clean from his addiction and knows he has to confront his abuse to achieve this.

‘I only take the drugs 'cause then I don’t have to think about it, and then when I’m off my face, I end up doing something stupid. That’s why I’m trying to get help with this now, because it’s cost me – I’m only 39 and I’ve done 21 years jail.’

He remembers the juvenile detention centre as a tough place.

‘We were all young. No one ever talked about their childhood or nothing. We just focused on what was in there … We used to pick on the weakest and there was no protection … If you did something bad it was too bad for you … If you weren’t strong enough, you didn’t make it.’

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